Looters given free rein as London police try to calm rioters
Thieves queued down streets and stopped to try on goods
Published 08/08/2011 | 05:00
London police have come under fire for giving looters free rein in broad daylight more than 12 hours after riots first erupted on the streets of north London.
Footage captured by Sky News shows youths weighed down with bags and shoeboxes streaming out of a ransacked branch of a sports shop.
One woman calmly inspects a brand-new pair of white trainers and even bends down to try one on.
The woman was one of hundreds who took advantage of a decision by the police to concentrate on tackling violent disturbances on Tottenham High Road rather than widespread targeting of shops.
Scotland Yard said 26 officers were injured in the riot while 48 people were arrested for offences including violent disorder, burglary and theft. Firefighters attended a total of 49 blazes. An investigation named Operation Withern was opened to find more of the perpetrators.
The Metropolitan Police said it was focused on containing violent disorder in Tottenham on Saturday night, which left dozens of officers injured and saw squad cars, shops and flats burned to the ground in some of the worst disturbances seen on British streets in recent years.
But its tactics meant gangs of youths were free to break into stores at nearby Tottenham Hale retail park and in Wood Green, with looters forming an orderly queue in broad daylight to steal from a sports shop.
Riot police did not intervene to stop the looting in some areas until 7.30am the following morning, almost 12 hours after the riots began, and last night there were fresh disturbances in nearby Enfield.
Police defended their actions, saying that their priority was to avoid loss of life in the violent clashes that started after a peaceful gathering outside a police station, held to protest a fatal shooting by Met officers on Thursday.
Metropolitan Police Commander Adrian Hanstock said that police took a decision to devote resources to the scene of the riot rather than the looting.
He said: "What you have to recognise here is that this is opportunistic criminality. These individuals who stole, looted and rampaged through businesses, businesses which are struggling in the current climate, took advantage at a time where police were dealing with some serious incidents that posed a threat to life.
"Of course we are going to focus on fires and people potentially in danger.
"You have got a situation where people have been violent and are setting fire to things. Police officers have to remain in position even after the initial violence dies down. It is a very delicate balance."
Trouble flared after family and friends of Mark Duggan gathered at the police station on Tottenham High Road at 5pm on Saturday.
The 29-year-old suspected gang member was killed in a taxi on Thursday evening after a surveillance operation.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is investigating amid allegations that officers opened fire first, although it was first claimed that a policeman had been shot and only had his life saved when a bullet hit his radio.
The IPCC was last night forced to deny internet rumours that Mr Duggan had been "assassinated" by officers in an execution-style killing where he was shot in the head.
It was widely rumoured that the riots were then triggered by police violence towards a 16-year-old girl at the protest.
Police say there are "conflicting responses" but some of those at the scene claimed the girl threw an object at the line of officers and was knocked down, prompting retaliation from the crowd, and the allegation spread not only on the street but also on the internet as protesters used mobile phones to keep in touch.
By 8.20pm two police cars had been set alight further up the high street and small numbers of policemen in riot gear were struggling to control groups of youths, faces hidden by hoodies and bandanas, who began targeting nearby properties.
Three hours later a double-decker bus had been torched and homeowners were forced to flee burning homes and small businesses in one of the poorest areas of the capital. Fire crews were unable to reach the blazes because of the threat posed by the crowds.
Brian Coleman, the Leader of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, said: "It is simply unacceptable that fire crews were threatened when they were trying to help protect local people. This mindless violence against firefighters has to stop."
One of the biggest shops on the high street, a 1930s building that was home to several flats as well as a branch of Carpet Right was destroyed by flames.
Stuart Radose, who lived above the burned-out carpet shop, said: "It looks like the Blitz where we were living. You could see things getting worse and worse, and there just didn't seem to be a police presence at all."
For many it evoked painful memories of the 1985 riots at the nearby Broadwater Farm estate, during which PC Keith Blakelock was murdered.
It was even suggested that the area's gangs, who do not normally encroach on each other's territories, put aside their differences for the night.
Some appear to have realised that the police had their hands full in Tottenham, and that there were richer pickings to be had in shopping districts elsewhere. (©Daily Telegraph, London)